Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Contacting Centrelink

Various news outlets reported on the 11/1/17 that the human services minister, Alan Tudge, said “…I know that the call wait time for Centrelink can be long, the average call wait time at present is about 12 minutes…” and “People can also go to a Centrelink office and typically they’ll be able to see a person, in person, within 10 minutes.”

Now this is a significantly different to that reported by Centrelink staff and that which has been presented at Senate enquiries. The Australian National Audit Office reported that in 2013-14 13.7 million callers hung up after waiting for as much as 1 hour. From all reports the current situation is now far worse; especially since the average age pension claim processing times have gone from an average 6 weeks to 4-5 months!

Now let’s test those ‘access’ times. It’s unlikely to be statistically significant, but it may give an idea of how a ‘typical’ Centerlink recipient needs to handle the situation. We are going to work with an age pensioner and log their attempts to contact Centrelink over a week period. We will attempt to contact Centrelink via the phone and then attend a Centrelink office.

Let’s consider an age pensioner who is working and needs to report wages. They get 30min for lunch so we will attempt to contact Centrelink during that break and if no answer then we will hang up after 30 minutes.

Note: the age pensioner is lucky enough to have a mobile phone – but not a smart phone - and to save costs cancelled their fixed line some time ago. Hence a 30-minute call to Centrelink’s ‘Older Australians’ 13 23 00 number will cost approx. $30.

Also for this trial we will visit a Centrelink office after that midday call. Now in practice this would also need to be done during a lunch time as Centrelink offices are only open between 8:30 am to 4:30 pm and the age pensioner works during these hours. It is likely that the lunch time queues would be longer than what we will experience; but it’s enough for this ‘trial’. Again the pensioner will wait 30 minutes – in practice they would have less than 30 minutes as travel time would need to be allowed for.

Day 1
Call: commenced at 12:03 – No answer, hung up at 12:37.

Visit: visited Centrelink at 3:42pm and told there are too many in the queue to be ‘serviced’ today, so “please come back tomorrow”.

Day 2
Call: commenced at 12:07 – No answer, hung up at 12:31.

Visit: visited Centrelink at 1:16pm, registered at the kiosk, and waited…After 30 minutes left without being served.

Day 3 
Call: tried 4 times to connect and eventually connected at 12:13 – hung up after 30 minutes wait. 

Visit: was told at Centrelink kiosk that there was a 2hr wait, so left.

Let's hope next week is better.

Day 4
Call: tried 8 times, connected at 12:20 - hung up after 40 minutes.
Visit: minimum staff - "holiday and sick" - "can't be seen within the hours". Left.

Tomorrow will start work late and go to a Centrelink office first things  @ 8:30am.

Day 5
Visit: Success! Only waited 20 minutes and was able to submit income earnings for the previous fortnight. 

It is clear that:
1. The process of reporting to Centrelink is cumbersome and time consuming. The above process could be repeated each and every fortnight.
2. It is clear that Centrelink are pushing clients towards on-line systems. However, even the Governments own IT advisory body (DTO) does not recommend its use. The apps and web services are not compatible with all platforms and cause confusion with respect to what information Centrelink can request and retain.
3. It is also clear that it is in Centrelinks interest - or it certainly appears that way - that barriers are built for the efficient reporting of circumstances. Claims are delayed or rejected, debt notices are issued for non-reporting etc. all assisting Centrelinks bottom line.
4. More and more people are 'moving' to use 3rd party organisations - such as - to avoid problems, reducing the chance of debt notices and 'get on with life'. However, Centrelink do not provide IT support for nominees; "its coming" Centrelink have been saying for more than 10 years. Centrelinks suggestion? "Just log on as the client". This not only conflicts the nominee agreement but it is an offence!

Note: Now we have attempted to replicate a typical attempt to contact Centrelink. Of course it is possible that some recipients have the opportunity to contact Centrelink more than once per day. However, as can be demonstrated in the above, unless that person has more than 30 minutes break then it is nigh impossible.